I truly believe that Coach Marvin Lewis had his best Bengals team yet in 2015 until quarterback Andy Dalton, who was having a career year, suffered a season-ending thumb injury in the first half of Cincinnati’s Week 14 home game versus Pittsburgh. Dalton broke his thumb making a tackle after throwing a pick. (When will quarterbacks learn to just crawl into a shell and hide when throwing picks?)
The Bengals were 10-2 entering that game and right in contention for the top seed in the AFC. But the Steelers won that one and the Bengals also lost an overtime crusher in Denver in Week 16. That relegated 12-4 Cincinnati to the third seed even though it had the same record as the No. 1 Broncos and No. 2 Patriots. And without Dalton, the Bengals once again lost their playoff opener, this time at home to Pittsburgh thanks in part to a couple of really stupid and unnecessary defensive penalties late in the fourth quarter.
Like Green Bay, Cincinnati is almost always a very quiet team in free agency and that was the case again. The only name additions, if you even call them that, were linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Taylor Mays and receiver Brandon LaFell. The club lost its No. 2 and 3 receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. To help replace them, Cincinnati grabbed Pitt’s Tyler Boyd in the second round.
Keep in mind that the Bengals will be without top linebacker Vontaze Burfict the first three games for repeated violations of player-safety rules. The final straw was an unnecessary roughness penalty with 22 seconds remaining in that wild-card loss against the Steelers. Burfict almost killed Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown on a pass that Brown had zero chance of catching. The Bengals also are likely to be without Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert the first few weeks. He injured his ankle in the Pro Bowl — just cancel that stupid game! — and had surgery. Eifert had 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 TDs (tops among all tight ends) last year.
So if you play the Bengals this year, it might be best to do so early. Cincinnati was 6-2 at home last season, 4-3-1 against the spread and 3-5 “over/under.” The Bengals play three home games against 2015 playoff teams. I project a 6-2 record again. Cincinnati has a wins total of 9.5 at 10StarPicks.com for the coming season, with the over at -140. I see a 10-6 mark. Overall, the team’s schedule ranks as tied for the fourth easiest with an opponents’ combined 2015 winning percentage of .465. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 25 vs. Broncos (-3): Cincinnati could be 0-2 after visiting the Jets in Week 1 (New York has a shot if Ryan Fitzpatrick and not Geno Smith is under center) and Pittsburgh in Week 2. Denver is home to Indianapolis in Week 2. This Bengals’ home opener should be the first time Dalton has played in a game at Paul Brown Stadium that counts since he broke his thumb. As noted above, the Bengals lost in OT in Denver in Week 16 on a Monday night last year. Backup QB A.J. McCarron muffed a snap in OT that was recovered by the Broncos after they had kicked a field goal. Cincinnati led 14-3 at halftime. Key trend: Bengals 4-4 ATS all time at home vs. Broncos.
Sept. 29 vs. Dolphins (-6.5): Thursday night game and Burfict’s return. Miami is home to Cleveland the previous Sunday. Cincinnati has lost three in a row in the series, last on Halloween 2013 in south Florida. Key trend: Bengals 1-7 ATS all time at home in series.
Oct. 23 vs. Browns (-11.5): Could be a letdown game for the Bengals as they are off a trip to New England in Week 6. Cleveland is at Tennessee the previous Sunday. This will be Cincinnati’s first game against former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Browns’ new head coach. The Bengals beat the visiting Browns 31-10 on a Thursday in Week 9 last year to improve to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. Eifert had three TD catches. Key trend: Bengals 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 as a double-digit home favorite vs. any team.
Oct. 30 vs. Redskins (-4): Cincinnati is ahead of its bye week, and this game is in London at 9:30 p.m. ET. The Bengals will serve as the home team at Wembley Stadium for what that’s worth as they face another former offensive coordinator in Washington head coach Jay Gruden. Washington is off a trip to Detroit in Week 7. Key trend: Bengals 6-4 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 20 vs. Bills (-5.5): Short week for the Bengals as they are at the Giants on Monday in Week 14. Extra benefit for Buffalo as it’s off its bye week. The Bengals won in Buffalo 34-21 last year in Week 6. The Bengals blew the game open by scoring 17 points on their first three drives of the second half. Dalton threw for three TDs. Jones had nine catches for 95 yards and a score. Key trend: Bengals 3-5 ATS at home vs. Bills.
Dec. 4 vs. Eagles (-5): Cincy is off a trip to Baltimore in Week 12. Philly is on a short week, hosting Green Bay the previous Monday. The Eagles are the fourth team with a new coaching staff that the Bengals will face this season. Cincy is 2-0-1 in the past three meetings. Key trend: Bengals 7-3 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC East teams.
Dec. 18 vs. Steelers (pick’em): Sunday night game. Cincinnati is off a trip to Cleveland the previous Sunday. Pittsburgh is in Buffalo in Week 14. This will be the Steelers’ lone chance for payback on Burfict, as he will miss the first meeting in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati lost 33-20 to the Steelers in that Week 14 game in which Dalton broke his thumb and then blew the Wild Card game at home, 18-16. Cincinnati had rallied from 15-0 fourth-quarter deficit to lead 16-15 with 1:50 left on an A.J. Green 25-yard TD catch. Key trend: Bengals 2-8 ATS in past 10 regular-season home meetings.
Jan. 1 vs. Ravens (TBA): There are no Week 17 lines with too much up in the air on the final Sunday. Bengals come off a Christmas Eve night game in Houston. Baltimore is off a Christmas game in Pittsburgh.
It’s the fifth time in six years the Bengals end a season with a home game against Baltimore. Cincinnati won it last year 24-16. McCarron was solid with 160 yards and two scores. Jeremy Hill rushed for 96 and a TD. Key trend: Bengals 7-3 ATS in past 10 at home in series.